Wednesday, 30 January 2013

In Hackney, more people who travel to work use a bike than use a car. Among Inner London residents, more than 7% who travel to work now travel by bicycle. Across London as a whole, 4.3% now travel by bike to work, up from 2.3% in 2001

Graph shows 2011 census data. This shows the percentage of people who travel to work and use a bicycle as their main method of transport to work by borough

The Office for National Statistics earlier today published another round of data from the 2011 census. One of the most compelling data sheets is the 'main method of travel to work'. Crunching that data  @geographyjim wrote on twitter that the number of people cycling to work in London has grown from 2.1% in 1971, to 2.4% in 1981, then dropped to 2.0% in 1991, hovered a 2.3% in 2001. And then in 2011, it ballooned to 4.0%. If you exclude the people who mainly work from home, though, you can see that the total number of people in London who work and who travel to work mainly by bicycle is now 4.3%.

Pictured above is a graph that shows the percentage of people who travel to work and use a bicycle as their main method of transport, broken down by London borough. The average in inner London is now 7.2%.

What's really astonishing, though, is to see how the bicycle is now overtaking car-use. If you look below at the population of Hackney that travels to work, more of them now go by bicycle than by car. In Islington, it's pretty much 50/50 split.

In Hackney, more people cycle to work than drive to work. In Westminster, however, twice as many people drive to work as cycle to work (and this despite the fact that there are more places to work in Westminster, ie there are potentially more local journeys to employment than there are in Hackney). 11.2% of Westminster's population drives to work and only 5.3% cycles. In Hackney, 15.4% cycle and 12.8% drive.

What this comes down to is policy. If you review the policies of Hackney and Westminster, you'll see that Hackney makes it easier to cycle than to drive. The City of Westminster, however, makes it easier to drive than cycle. Unsurprisingly, Westminster's policies have led to more people using cars and to the "parking stress" that Westminster complains is cluttering up its streets. It's not just me who thinks that. The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea wrote an official objection to the City of Westminster's Local Plan last year saying that "Westminster’s [new] policies on residential parking policy and public car parks...would greatly increase the number of off-street car parking spaces in Westminster and, it is considered, would inevitably produce additional traffic congestion within Central London including the Royal Borough." Plan for more cars and, surprise, surprise, you get more cars. Plan for bike journeys and journeys on foot and, surprise, surprise, you get more journeys by bike and on foot.

Thumbs up to Hackney. And let's watch as the City of Westminster continues to pursue policies to have more cars on its streets. Even the traffic-chocked hell of Moscow thinks the sorts of policies that are popular in the City of Westminster need consigning to the dustbin.

If you look at outer London, the picture is pretty miserable, though.

With the exception of neighbouring boroughs Richmond and Kingston, there is virtually nothing going on when it comes to cycling. Places like Newham are really not far from central London by bike. Half an hour and you can be in the City of London. But only 1.7% cycle to work. My own view is that the hostile street environment in Newham and the refusal by that local authority (as in Westminster) to make cycling an attractive and cost-effective option for its residents. Newham could be another Hackney. But it's chosen the car, not the bike. I'd rather live in Hackney, frankly.

There is a lot more analysis to be done on this data. In particular, a look at the historic trends.But the fact is simple. Create conditions for people to cycle to work and they will. Create conditions for people to drive to work, and they will. Local authorities have to chose. In the case of Westminster and Newham, the councillors have chosen more cars. Let them live with the rising congestion, the rising pollution, the inefficient and ugly streets. And let the rest of us live in places where we can walk and cycle to work faster, more cheaply and without dumping congestion on the rest of the road network.


More on this topic in Friday's Evening Standard:

Monday, 28 January 2013

Why has Boris Johnson let Westminster Council get away with a transport policy that will drive central London back to the 1970s? Even Kensington & Chelsea blasts new Westminster policy as "inevitably producing additional traffic congestion within central London".

Last week I spent a very frosty evening in Hackney touring various cycling schemes with the folk of Hackney Cyclists. Hackney, as many of you know, is the most-cycled borough in London. The council is aiming for a 15% of all journeys to be made by bike by 2030 (and nearly 25% of all journeys to work) and 65% of the borough's households are car-free, up from 56% in 2001.

Hackney is a borough that has gone through huge changes in recent years. Its population has shot up from 181,000 to nearly 250,000 between 2001-11 and it has become one of the most walkable and cyclable parts of London with some hugely improved urban areas all around the borough.

A bike street in Dalston, Hackney. Minimum fuss, maximum
benefit for people on bikes and on foot. This road used to be a
car rat-run. Not any longer. 
A regular sight in Hackney streets are streets like the one pictured left that are bike and pedestrian-only routes. Creating simple filters like this, turns what would otherwise be unpleasant rat-runs into calm, pleasant streets that feel safer to walk and cycle in.

And hey presto, that's exactly what happens. There are miles and miles of routes in the borough where you can choose what feel like safe, quiet routes with minimum diversion. And the real point is that these "bike streets" actually connect up in a meaningful way that makes sense when you're on a bike.

Probably the most impressive is the (relatively new) Goldsmiths Row which was formerly a rat-run for cars taking a short cut out towards the A12 and is now a bike and pedestrian-only street.

But these streets aren't only about bikes. They're about safer streets for everyone. They're also hugely more 'liveable' places. I think that's because what Hackney is creating is a proper balance between people on foot, on bikes and in cars.

But there's something else going on in Hackney as well.

What's been taking shape in Hackney for many years is a concerted effort between planning and transport to make the place easier to get around for everyone, not just for car drivers. One very clear example of this is Hackney's policy on providing car parking in new residential developments, for example. Council policy is for "Reduced or preferably no on-site parking in areas of good accessibility". So, a brand new development like Pembury Circus in Hackney Central has 280 flats but no car parking. There is a similar policy in the City of London as well where "Developments in the City should be car-free except for designated Blue Badge spaces".

Goldsmiths Row, Hackney. Formerly a rat-run for cars cutting off the
main roads. Now a bicycle-street. Bikes and pedestrians only.
Truly impressive infrastructure. Courtesy Hub Magazine
This matters. And it matters for one key reason. Deny people the chance to easily keep a car in the garage and they will quite probably opt for bike, bus or foot instead. Make it easy and safe to cycle and they might ditch the car altogether. With this sort of policy, it's not altogether surprising that only 35% of households in Hackney now own a car.

This stuff really matters. It matters all the more in central London.

The City of Westminster, a borough which has a pretty toxic history (in my view) when it comes to encouraging cycling takes a completely different approach. Like Hackney, the City of Westminster has also seen healthy population growth in the last decade, albeit less than Hackney. There are actually significantly more people per hectare in Hackney than there are in Westminster (129 per hectare in Hackney, 102 in Westminster). But unlike Hackney, Westminster suffers from what it calls areas of "car parking stress". What that means is that Westminster council is worried that its residents don't have anywhere to park their cars at night. This, despite the fact that 63% of Westminster households don't have a car (up from 57% in 2001).

So, to counter this 'parking stress', what did the council do? It re-wrote the parking rules. Where Hackney forbids parking in new residential developments, Westminster actually requires developers to include car parking in its new buildings. Not only does it require new off-street car parking, but Westminster is so toxically addicted to providing car parking for the 37% of its households that own a car, that it can't and won't build safe cycle routes. The "need" for car parking means Westminster can't build the sorts of contraflow bike lanes that are normal in most of London these days. Why not? Because it would impede car parking: "Contra‐flow cycle lanes will generally not be provided as they usually result in the loss of loading and parking facilities adjacent to these cycle lanes".

Cycle-friendly streets in the City of Westminster.
Not exactly. 
The parking policies at Westminster seem to me so retrograde, so utterly 1970s-dominated in their thinking, that even the neighbouring Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (not known for being particularly progressive on things cycling-related) slammed them in a letter last year: "Westminster’s [new] policies on residential parking policy and public car parks...would greatly increase the number of off-street car parking spaces in Westminster and, it is considered, would inevitably produce additional traffic congestion within Central London including the Royal Borough." 

Yes, that's right. The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea officially objects to Westminster's parking policies because it believes the borough is generating motor traffic congestion in central London.

If you want to create an environment where you can cycle and walk rather than take the car, you need streets where the balance between car, bike and foot is restored. And Westminster is very deliberately acting to ensure more cars on its streets and, as a result, more congestion. The result of all this? Westminster is a grim, forbidding place to cycle. And one which won't get any better for years to come. What really beats me is why Boris Johnson, who funds a large part of Westminster's traffic plans, has allowed Westminster to vote in planning standards that actually encourage more traffic congestion and less cycling.

I think the City of Westminster is addicted to car parking. It is so addicted it can't see a way out of building for yet more cars. The City of Westminster is drafting a cycling strategy as we speak. If that cycling strategy doesn't address seriously whether the streets of Westminster should be full of cars, or bikes and people instead, then it might as well not bother.

Monday, 21 January 2013

UK Parliamentary cycling inquiry starts this week and could have enormous consequences for the future of cycling in the UK. It is hugely important.

German 'bicycle street'. Drivers 'must not endanger or impede cyclists'
Early today, the official Highway Code twitter account sent a tweet reminding UK road users of Highway Code rule 77: Cyclists. "At roundabouts be aware that drivers may not easily see you. You may feel safer walking your cycle round on the pavement/verge."

Read Rule 77 again and read it carefully. 

What we have here, in my view, is an official and cowardly opt-out by the Department for Transport. Rather than build infrastructure that makes it safe to cycle around the roundabout, the Highway Code (in my opinion) officially sanctions cop-out road design. If it's too scary for you, get off and walk.

But even getting off and walking isn't good enough:

This, believe it or not, is a Transport for London official cycle route 
crossing four lanes of motorway slip road

Two years ago, a woman called Zoë Anne Sheldrake was killed, aged 31. Zoë was on her bike using an official Transport for London cycle route between Elstree and Edgware. These two places are not far apart. But the cycle infrastructure that runs between them is, quite frankly, immorally dangerous. Voleospeed blog revisited the bike route last month. As he points out, Zoë would have followed the bike track and then had to cross a slip road that links the M1 and the A41. To get across the slip road, as he points out, "Cyclists are required to cross the 70mph slip road here, with no more than a "look left" and their own judgement to protect them." That means you have to literally race for your life across four lanes of motor traffic moving at 70-80mph, around a corner. We can only speculate how, exactly, Zoe was killed but as VoleOSpeed points out "what is really disgusting is the design of this cycle path; there is not even a sign telling motorists that cyclists and pedestrians are supposed to be crossing the slip road here". 

These are just two examples of the everyday abdication of responsibility by the highway authorities that faces people who want to cycle in the UK. You're damned by disgustingly dangerous cycle infrastructure or you're damned by a Highway Code that legitimises dangerous road designs and absolves highway authorities of responsibility to cater for safe cycling. 

A "Bicycle Street" in action, courtesy Hamburgfiets blog
Now, I know this is comparing apples ever so slightly with pears but let's look at the recently amended German version of the Highway Code. The Germans have updated the way they define "Bicycle Streets". Pictured left is a Bicycle Street in action. Looks like a fairly normal street, doesn't it? But there's a new rule on these streets: "You must not endanger or impede bicycle traffic". 

Just imagine adding a clause to the UK Highway Code that tells non-cyclists they must not "impede" cycle traffic. Astonishing in the UK, yet normal in many other countries and not only in Germany. 

These examples highlight just some of the issues that I hope will be exposed by the first ever parliamentary inquiry into how to get Britons on their bikes. The inquiry starts on Wednesday and yesterday's Guardian contains and excellent article that explains in some detail how the inquiry will work. 

The inquiry is about whether the UK can create a cycling environment which is sufficiently fit for purpose that cycling can become a normal mode of transport. It will (I hope) engage with issues around road infrastructure and with the rules of the road.

As Ian Austin MP - co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group stresses in an interview to The Guardian, "We want a detailed report with some very clear recommendations, which we can then ask all the political parties to sign up to. If we can get the party leaders to commit to cycling in advance of the election we can make some real progress."

And the question is, will we get real progress? 

I'm quietly hopeful we might. 

The reason I'm optimistic is an astonishing new set of guidelines from the Department for Transport, the same ministerial Department that gave us the Highway Code and created the lethal combination that is UK road policy: A set of road rules that shirk real responsibility when it comes to cycling (and pedestrian) traffic with a complete lack of design standards for safe cycle infrastructure. 

Last week the Department for Transport issued a new report on speed limits. The RAC Foundation wrote a withering blogpost in response to the new guidance which seems to me to completely miss the point of the new speed limit guidance. The absolute clincher point in the new guidance (to my mind) is this new clause: "Roads should be designed so that mistakes made by road users do not result in death or serious injury. Effective speed management is part of creating a safe road environment which is fit for purpose."

This is absolutely spot-on. It's hard to believe this has come from the Department for Transport. If you follow the new guidance, you simply can't design cycle routes that cross motorway slip roads and expect cyclists to just chance it across four lanes. Nor can you any longer accept Highway Code guidance that legitimises dangerous road design by telling cyclists to get off their bikes and walk. 

I think we owe full credit to the members of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group for championing these issues. And to The Times for supporting the inquiry. It will be an interesting few months as these issues are discussed and the report comes together. 


You can hear Cambridge MP Julian Huppert and I discuss the inquiry on Radio 4's You and Yours programme. Listen out for the obligatory 'but cyclists jump red lights' question. Hmmm. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

London gets its first ever cycling commissioner. I think we need a tipping point of 'non-cyclists' to start thinking cycling is "A Good Thing". Can Andrew Gilligan help make that happen in London?

Everyday reality of getting around London by bicycle.
Not surprised most people look at the streets and don't hop
on their bikes
Earlier today, London journalist Adam Bienkov announced London's worst-kept secret: London's first cycling commissioner will be Daily Telegraph journalist Andrew Gilligan.

The Guardian followed up with a political angle on the news, screaming "Boris Johnson triggers fresh cronyism claims with Andrew Gilligan job". There's no doubt that for many people - in particular a lot of journalists - Gilligan comes with a history attached.

But Gilligan also comes with a history in cycling circles too. As he points out on his Daily Telegraph blog, he started campaigning for segregated bike lanes back in 2007 when he was a journalist at The Evening Standard.

And his stance on cycling has been fairly consistent. Writing in 2010, he quite rightly pointed out that: "The point about almost all “cycle infrastructure” in London is that it is not designed for cyclists. It is designed so that politicians can say that something is being done for us." I'd agree with that.

He also, rather correctly as it turns out, dubbed London's first Cycle Super Highway "completely pointless...The superhighway [offers] no protection against what is a very busy, and in places very narrow and congested, main road." Remember, that he was writing this was at a time when the London Cycling Campaign was making (publicly at least) very ambiguous comments on the Super Highways. The London Cycling Campaign certainly wasn't calling for protected bike lanes on main routes in 2010, for example, but only for better 'priority' and lower speed limits.

City centre cycling in Barcelona. Looks very different to central
London, doesn't it? Yet, none of this infrastructure
existed a couple of years ago. All it needs is political will.
Courtesy ibikelondon blog
Not everything in Andrew Gilligan's cycling story is rosy. I think he called it wrong when he criticised the London Cycling Campaign and Sustrans when both organisations took a very political stance during last year's Mayoral elections. The point being that making cycling as normal and everyday mode of transport is political. Very, very political.

And this, in the longer run, is where I have hopes that Andrew Gilligan might - just - get it right. The one theme that he's thumped out again and again is this one: "I believe that the way to win arguments is to stress what better cycle facilities can do for London as a whole.. rather than just for cyclists."

He's absolutely right about that. He talks in another post about the need to "create the political space for radical improvements to the cycling experience in London." This is something I've heard so often from politicians. The conversation generally goes something like this: Politician says they would like to support cycling; then politician says 'but my postbag is never full of letters saying my constituents want safe or convenient cycling'. So, it needs political will to make cycling happen. But to create that political will, we have to get as many people to tell the politicians that they want safe and convenient cycling. And that means getting cab drivers, bus drivers and a whole range of people to support cycling. In particular, we need a tipping point of "non-cyclists" to start thinking that cycling is A Good Thing.

More 'normal' city centre cycling. This time in Nice, France.
On bike lanes that didn't exist a few years ago. And are good enough for
dads to use with their kids. Again, great reporting by Mark at ibikelondon blog. 
Andrew Gilligan's challenge is pretty daunting. The role is not full-time (which seems very wrong to me) but my sense is that he's right that we need  Londoners as a whole to start supporting more investment in cycling: People who might like to use a bicycle to get to work or go visit their friends or head to the shops. I suspect there are hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people like this in London. The trick is to re-start Boris Johnson's 'cycling revolution' so that these are the people who start cycling. And, frankly, most of these people aren't going to use the existing Cycle Super Highways. Because, as Gilligan said in 2010, they're almost "pointless".

Once we start getting everyone and anyone on a bike, then maybe we can all stop being 'cyclists' and start being Londoners who just happen to be using a bicycle to get from A to B. If he can help pull that off, then all credit to him. But we'll all have to stay very attentive and make sure we hold Andrew Gilligan to his word. This is a highly visible post, with a highly engaged community of people who are willing to support the overall goal.

Whatever your politics, I think we owe it - for now at least - to let Andrew Gilligan give it his best. And we need to measure his achievements on what he helps deliver and judge him based on those.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

City of Westminster is at last drafting a cycling strategy. Don't get your hopes up: The council is already insisting cycle routes mustn't "adversely impact" private car use

Classic bike lane in the City of Wesminster. The 'bike lane' leads straight into a traffic light
Last month, the City of Westminster issued a response to a Freedom of Information request that provided some detail on the council's approach to cycling. It's a fairly damning set of responses:

During the year 2011/12, according to the FOI response, the council spent £173,000 on its cycle parking programme, less than the £208,000 the previous year. To put this in context, the City of London spent £93,000 to provide additional cycle parking for just one residential housing estate last year. Not only did Westminster decrease its investment in cycle parking at a time when cycling is booming but, when looked at in context, the total expenditure in Westminster looks extremely flimsy.

It gets worse when you look at how much time and effort Westminster spends on making the borough safe, let alone convenient, for everyday trips to made by bike. Asked how much the council spends on cycle paths and other cycle facilities across borough, the City of Westminster replies: £1.72million in 2010/11 which was then reduced to £946,000 last year. It's unclear whether that was Westminster's own cash or whether the money was Transport for London cash spent in Westminster (for example, TfL paid for the new cycle super highway that heads from Millbank to Wandsworth Bridge). Either way, it is highly unclear what the money was actually spent on given that Westminster counts "public realm schemes with improvements for cyclists and highway maintenance" as a 'cycling scheme'. For all I know, that could include schemes like the new road layout at the top of Waterloo Bridge which, frankly, does absolutely nothing for cycling but certainly involves some highway maintenance. If you look at the website of the Westminster Cyclists group, it's immediately obvious that, when it comes to cycling in the City of Westminster, there's a bit of talk about cycling but not much happening on the ground.

So it's faintly encouraging to see Westminster confirm in this FOI response that the council will start consultation on its new Cycling Strategy in late summer this year. About time too. The Strategy was originally meant to be published late last year.

It is concerning, though, to see that better and safer cycling will only be built provided it doesn't impact other modes of transport. The councillor responsible for the Cycling Strategy confirmed last year that he wants "to improve the attractiveness of, and facilities for, cycling and walking in Westminster, whilst striking an appropriate balance with the need to ensure powered vehicles continue to be able to get around the city, and that the steps we take do not adversely impact upon other modes of transport". That will probably mean Westminster will refuse to move car parking along cycle routes in order to build cycle infrastructure. Weasel-worded commitment, if ever I heard it.

Let's just remember that 63% of Westminster households don't own a car. You'd have thought the council might want to prioritise cycling, walking and bus transit for all those non-car owning households.

We'll see what comes out of the Westminster Cycling Strategy in the coming months.

In the meantime, I have to hope that Westminster doesn't copy one strategy that is spreading its tentacles across the City of London. The Square Mile is doing very impressive work on cycling and walking in general. It has recently committed to a Road Danger Reduction Plan, for example.

This is the space left to cycle along Cheapside
now that the road has been made massively narrower
and the pavements almost doubled in width
But one aspect of that Plan is to make road carriageways narrower. This is something that the Square Mile seems weirdly obsessed with. Cheapside, which runs between Bank and St Paul's was the first street to get the narrowing treatment.

Why has the City of London narrowed Cheapside and why does it plan to narrow more of its streets? The City claims that "Cheapside was deliberately narrowed to make cars and cyclists move together at broadly the same speed. The design reduces the prospect of vehicles stopping on the carriageway; which limits the risk of vehicle doors being opened in front of cyclists. All of these are behavioural issues but they are influenced by the surrounding street environment."

The problem is, that for most of the day, cars don't move much along Cheapside. They do stop on the carriageway pretty much all the time.

End result? People on bicycles can't move either. Either that, or they squeeze along the side of the pavement or overtake a couple of dozen stationery taxis and buses on the wrong side of the road. The end result is that even City of London insiders are starting to admit cyclists aren't doing what they hoped they would (simply cycling at the same speed as the completely stationary taxis).

I'm not surprised. The new road layout simply doesn't work for cycling. During the few hours of the day when motor traffic is moving, you see cars and taxis inching past cyclists hugging the kerb because they feel so intimidated by the new road layout. The City might well claim this makes the street 'safer' but it makes it markedly more intimidating to cycle along and hugely less convenient even for highly confident cyclists who don't mind weaving in and out of crawling motor queues.

Narrowing roads and expecting them to work for cycling is completely inappropriate. I hope Westminster doesn't borrow this particular strategy from the City of London.

Monday, 7 January 2013

At last: A cycle super highway worthy of the name. Two metre wide fully protected bike track planned to Stratford in 2013. "Re-think in policy from the Mayor" says BBC. Only issue? It exposes how truly useless the same super cycle highway is on the stretch between Bow and The City.

Artist's impression of "a segregated cycle lane" by Transport for London. I'm not sure the
impression does this scheme justice. The plans look much better than this. 

Earlier today Transport for London published detailed designs for its planned extension to Cycle Super Highway 2, between Bow roundabout and Stratford. And they are - astonishingly - really rather good. You can comment on the scheme by filling out the online survey at the bottom of the consultation page.

BBC News got the messaging completely right. This isn't some half-hearted scheme. This is 2.4km of "completely segregated" cycle track (for the most part two metres wide, so plenty wide enough for faster cyclists to pass slower folk) and as Tom Edwards says in his footage for the BBC "this represents a re-think in policy from the Mayor". That's completely true.

Until very recently, the noises emerging from the Mayor and Transport for London were all about the lack of space for cycle tracks. And then, last June, Boris Johnson made a statement to the London Assembly: "What has become clear to me is that we are now seeing a step-change in both the way that people choose to travel, and also in the way that cyclists are viewed on our streets. In response to this, I firmly believe that we must evolve our thinking and actions on cycle safety." It seems that slowly but surely the first signs of that 'evolution' are coming to the drawing board.

Stratford High Street - plenty of space for a bike track. At last.
Courtesy AsEasyAsRidingABike blog 
As I said back in June, "There is an unbelievable amount of space to build a world-class cycle highway along this route."

If you don't believe me, take a look at this excellent on Cycle Super Highway 2 by AsEasyAsRidingABike blog: This post shows very clearly the masses of space available to create safe, convenient and direct cycling between Stratford and Bow.

The proposed scheme isn't perfect. The Stratford end is very bitty, with some shared pavement that fits in around the giant Stratford one-way system. The track passes behind bus stops (something that is completely and utterly standard in plenty of other countries and you can see examples in this earlier blogpost) but the angle looks a little sharp in the mock-ups. And the section that crosses Bow roundabout is still deeply compromised.

I'm also perplexed by some of the suggestions for right turns across the High Street (you can see the blue explanation sign in the map below at Rick Roberts Way). You'll be able to turn right (across up to eight lanes of motor traffic currently) by swinging left into Rick Roberts Way, then crossing into an advanced stop line facing west and then proceeding straight ahead. This is something not dissimilar to the way Denmark makes cyclists turn left  (their equivalent of our right turn) and is a fairly standard feature on bike tracks in US cities now. But the London version will mean waiting at a centre traffic island. You'll have to wait for two sets of green lights, in the same way you would in Copenhagen or New York, but it feels a bit clunkier.

That said, it looks like you will also be able to turn right by cycling along the Highway and then moving left onto the shared use pavement at the junction which means that you can technically (and legally) avoid having to stop at the first red light by using the shared area and then moving into position to cross over the High Street. This seems a good mix of working around how people already cycle by making it almost as simple (and legal) as crossing the road without necessarily waiting for the lights (as they wouldn't apply to you at this point). This is the way that Japanese and South Korean cities design junctions, allowing cyclists to 'become pedestrians' at traffic lights and cross (slowly, gently) with pedestrians. It gives you an always-green (green if you're with the traffic, green if you're with the pedestrians). It is completely standard practice in those countries in a way that enables older and much younger residents to cycle safely and slowly without the sort of stop-start you get in London. It actually makes cycling MORE convenient than driving and legally so. Hooray.

Cycle Super Highway 2 - Extension to Stratford
But let's look at the positives. Two metre wide bike track with priority over side roads, treated as an extension of the carriageway and not treated like a footpath where you have to give way to every driveway and side road. Fantastic.

There's been a lot of noise recently about the fact that cycling numbers on London's main roads dropped slightly this year. Frankly, if TfL built something to this standard along Super Highway 7 down to Tooting or out to Wandsworth, I think you'd see a MASSIVE increase in the number of people using bikes.

What makes me say that? It's pretty simple, really. Make it feel safe, make it convenient and people will use it. Look at Montreal, a city that is way ahead of London in delivering bike infrastructure. The city has a serious bike network, much of which is segregated in the way that TfL proposes at Stratford. Montreal's city council points out that only 10% of people who use bikes in the city (and 37% of them cycle weekly outside of the bitter winter months) use roads without bike lanes to cycle on. However, 84% of Montreal residents who use bikes stick to the protected bike network and 87% stick to back streets.

What's the lesson here? Only 10% of the city's cyclists will bike in and around heavy, fast-moving motor traffic. (If you've never cycled in Montreal, here's my review of what it feels like)

If we want to give people the choice to ditch their cars or to stop having to fork out for travel cards, then we have to build a protected bike network along major routes and make it easier to cycle along quieter back streets. That's the only way cycling will ever take off as something that one-third of Londoners do once or more each week. That's the key lesson from Montreal. And every other city that takes cycling seriously.

This new consultation from Transport for London is the first time I've seen anything even vaguely close to catching up on what's already common-place in New York, Chicago, Copenhagen, Montreal, you name it.

It's not all amazing news, however. What this scheme will do, is expose the awful stretch of the same Cycle Super Highway 2 that was opened two years ago and runs from Bow roundabout (where this new stretch will start) to the Square Mile. This early stretch is an utter farce. It's ludicrously dangerous and TfL must upgrade the rest of the route to the same standard as it is planning out to Stratford. If you don't know just how bad the original stretch of Cycle Super Highway 2 is, then have a look at this travel report by Mark Treasure on his blog. It's truly awful. 

@AlterativeDfT has redrawn what the kerb should look like on the
Cycle Super Highway. Note, flushed kerb rather than squared-off
kerb on inside of the cycle track. Better for cyclists & pedestrians
Credit to
There are a couple of details that look wrong. The kerb inside the cycle highway should be flushed at an angle rather than squared off edges (see the redrafted image to the left where the kerb is flushed, unlike the picture above where it is a squared drop from the pavement). The track seems (if you assume the mock-up drawings are right) to take slightly sharp angles when it approaches bus stops. And the Stratford end is a real hodgepodge of on road, shared use pavement and bike track.

That said, I'm genuinely surprised. And I'd kill (not literally, thank you) to have something like this on my journey to work. Do you know what really amazes me? It's that, although this scheme does have some faults, it has taken bits from Japan, bits from New York, and bits from Copenhagen. And it's come up with something that works for London. By taking the best bits from the world and stirring them together to fit the arcane rules and regulations that have been used till now to completely surpress cycling in this country. Never thought I'd say this (at least not as soon as 2013) but well done Boris. And well done TfL.

Take a look at the detailed plans in detail on TfL's website. And add your comments to the consultation. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Time to start taming cyclists? "In making cities fit for cycling, we must also ensure cycling becomes fit for cities". Too true. If we don't adapt as cyclists, we'll continue to be classed as "the silent menace"

Here's a London "cyclist". Look like a 'silent menace'
to you?
Andrew Gilligan, the London correspondent of The Telegraph, is a big supporter of cycling in the capital. It is a topic he has long championed at the various newspapers he has worked for. Earlier this week, he wrote a piece on his blog, which talks about the fact that there has been a decline in the number of people cycling on London's trunk roads. Andrew's piece asks whether the decline might be down to the fact that people are talking more about whether it's safe to cycle or not.

I'm not sure I agree with that particular assertion but there are a number of points in Gilligan's piece that I agree with whole-heartedly. The first of those is this: "The emphasis on safety might end up being beneficial if it creates the political space for radical improvements to the cycling experience in London."

That is exactly the point.

Those of us who do cycle in London have coalesced around the issue of safety because it is something we all feel. In fact, according to Transport for London, the majority of cyclists will go out of their way specifically to  take a safer route: "A recent study of current cyclists in London found that cyclists were willing to increase their journey time to travel on better, safer routes. Current London cyclists are prepared to travel further to cycle in cycle lanes, bus lanes, on residential roads and would travel three times further to cycle on off-road routes." No surprises there.

Gilligan also makes the point that London roads aren't as dangerous as the media has recently made them out to be. He concludes: "So we should never stop talking about safety. It is and always has been the biggest reason why people do not take up cycling. But perhaps we should think a bit more about how we talk about it."

I am going to rise to that challenge. And I think there are two issues where we need to think about how we talk about cycling.

The first of those is what we define as a 'cyclist'. In the same report I mentioned earlier, Transport for London states that "less confident cyclists will try to avoid" busy trunk roads (page 122).

I would like Transport for London to ban use of the phrase "less confident cyclist". My niece is seven. She's a very confident cyclist. But she doesn't like cycling with cars on busy roads. What would it take for her to cycle to school, the same way that half the children her age cycle to school in Denmark? Transport for London's report would imply she needs to be a fit, 20-something adult with the wits and strength to keep pace with the motor vehicles. At that point she will be a "confident cyclist". We don't design roads only for "confident" drivers. So why are solutions acceptable that are only for "confident" cyclists?

Addison Lee cycle trainer demonstrating ASL
This "cyclist" is actually a minicab driver from AddisonLee, 
being given cycle training by David Dansky

The second issue I think we need to address is what other people think about "cyclists" - in particular what those people who don't yet cycle, but might want to switch to their bikes if they felt the conditions were safe enough.

If you have time, I would echo a recent blog post by As Easy As Riding A Bike who points to the work of Dave Horton. Dave is a sociologist and over recent months has been writing a fascinating series of blog posts "Cycling Struggles" in which he interviews people about cycling, about why they do or don't cycle and about how they cycle. What he finds, is that many of us are conditioned to cycling fast because we cycle mixed with motor traffic. Mixing with pedestrians means 'slowing down'. What happens when you force people on bikes to slow down and mix with pedestrians often makes for unhappy reading.

And when I say 'force people on bikes to mix with pedestrians', I mean it the same way as Dave Horton does, namely: "The male pavement cyclist is much more likely than the model cyclist to be working-class, young, and/or non-white; whether male or female, the pavement cyclist is less likely than the model cyclist to be competitive and fit; and the pavement cyclist might be accompanying children....People [who] cycle on the pavement when they feel unable to cycle on the road."

It is the fear of pavement cycling that (I think) makes it somehow socially acceptable for David Kent, London engagement officer of Guide Dogs for the Blind to tell The Evening Standard that his organisation opposes protected bike lanes because cyclists are - in his words: "the silent menace". It makes my seven-year old niece sound like the grim reaper.

We need to create an environment where people - any sort of people - feel that cycling is a safe, sensible way to get about. And to achieve that, we need to accept that cycling cannot be the domain solely of those of us already "confident" enough to mix with the cars, leaving everyone else to play hopscotch with their bikes on the pavement.

There's a deal to be struck. The Mayor, the boroughs and Transport for London need to create a safe, convenient and continuous network of routes for people to cycle on. Whether that's by creating protected space for cycling on main roads or by linking quiet or traffic-free streets.

And in return, all of us need to encourage cycling to be about everyday people, doing everyday things.

This is exactly the point that Mark Treasure makes in his blog post and I think he's absolutely right:

"It should be quite clear that for ‘fast’ cyclists, their behaviour will have to adapt (I include myself in this group). You will no longer be able to hammer through some parts of London. You will have to be more responsible in certain areas, particularly outside shops and bus stops. You will have to watch out for pedestrians, who will be often be unpredictable. This isn’t just about cycle tracks around bus stops; It’s is a necessary component of creating a more liveable city. We’ve ended up with a cohort of cyclists trying to act like motor vehicles, and as we tame the motor vehicle, so we will have to tame precisely these cyclists."

At times, I am a fast cyclist. I am training for a race at the moment, as it happens. But I also cycle to the supermarket.I cycle to work. I cycle to the cinema. These are all very different types of 'cycling'. Ultimately, all of these types of cycling need to be accommodated but that might mean making some compromises. Should I be able to train for racing through central London, for example? I wouldn't expect to practice racing a car through central London.

There is a whole series of dilemmas and debates around these sorts of issues but, ultimately, they all revolve around finding a place for cycling that everyone can buy in to, not just people who already cycle. In his post on the Telegraph's website, Andrew Gilligan suggests we need to think about changing the language around cycling. I think he's right. The language we need to find around cycling is about making cycling something that works for most people all across the country. And to achieve that, we will have to think about what cycling should look like in our towns, cities and villages.

I'll leave with the words of Dave Horton that echo this point well: "There’s work to do here; and in making cities fit for cycling we must also ensure cycling becomes fit for cities."